Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hunting Island, South Carolina

Hunting Island, South Carolina is located on the South Carolina coast just north of Hilton Head Island. It's also about a two hour drive south from Charleston (mainly due to there being no direct road connection). I first visited this island in January of 2008. It was another one of those weekends where, with Laura being in Iraq, I needed to keep myself busy, so I just decided on a whim to hop in the truck with the dogs and drive to the coast. When we got there, being that it was out of season, there was no attendant taking money for parking (I think the usual cost is $3). There wasn't a single car in the parking lot. We got out and started exploring the beach. I didn't do any research before-hand, so I was surprised when, around the corner from where we parked, was a beautiful lighthouse. We snapped some pictures there and read the placards about the island's history. The lighthouse was built in 1859, and then rebuilt in 1875 after it was destroyed during the Civil War. It was deactivated in 1933. Because we were there in the off season, the lighthouse was closed, but you can climb all 167 steps for a small $2.00 fee when it is open during the spring, summer, or fall.

The beach was awesome. The sand was awesome, and being that it was out of season, the dogs got to run up and down beach at free will. One of the placards also talked about the erosion problem. Apparently the island has been washing away at an alarming rate for quite some time. That explained all the downed palm trees. It made for a kind of surreal scene. We headed down the beach for quite a while till we got to the campground. Then we backtracked on one of the trails they have just inland from the beach.

The trail leads you under a canopy of palm branches from the campground, to the lighthouse, and on to the beach parking area. All in all we had a great time. We made it back to the island during the summer. The crowds were pretty overwhelming, but we still found a nice spot on the beach to lay down a towel. Dogs are welcome year round, just be sure you leash them (unless its winter and there is no one there!).

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another Lifer!

This is a hike we did back in August. And when I say "we", I don't mean the usual "we". Laura was spending her last weekend at Camp Lejeune, so she was a no-go for this one. I finally talked a co-worker of mine, a fellow Airman, Dennis, into going with me. Anytime you take people hiking or backpacking with you, you can usually tell within the first hour of the trip whether or not they will ever go on another trip. Getting people to go backpacking is a non-stop effort. I go hiking probably every other weekend or so in the three warmer seasons, and probably once a month in winter. EVERY time I go I try to recruit anyone from work that I can to come with me. It's usually the same reaction I get when I ask. "Hey man, sounds pretty cool. Where are you going camping? Can we bring beer? No? Oh, I'm actually supposed to go to the bar with my friends this weekend. Maybe next time." And of course there is actually never a next time. So needless to say I was excited to hear that Dennis was going to come, and he was bringing a friend of his from tech school with us.

We prepped to camp for two nights, and made three stops. All three stops were in the Golden Corner. (The Golden Corner is what they call the three counties in the western tip of South Carolina). We got to Brasstown Creek just as night was setting in. We set up camp, cooked some food, and washed up in the creek. I was anxious to show the guys the Brasstown Waterfall Series that was less than a quarter mile from our tents that night. The next morning we packed up and went on down to the waterfalls. The guys were just as blown away as I was the first time I stumbled upon these falls. The first is a 30 foot wide cascade tumbling slowly down a rocky incline. Just 20 meters downstream is a 20 foot waterfall flowing over a cliff face. It's a very picturesque waterfall, one of the best I've seen (above). Then the third part, again just 20 meters or so down stream, is a sluice that drains into an awesome swimming pool, framed to the north by a beautiful cliff face.

((left to right: EVAN, DENNIS (kneeling), ME, & AUSTIN -one of my two dogs))

The next stop was just up the road (an old forest service dirt road) from our campsite. We walked to the top of Pine Mountain and caught some really amazing panoramic views (as pictured above).

After that, we headed up the road to the Chattooga River. If you are ever in this part of South Carolina, you have to go enjoy the views of the Chattooga River Valley. After driving through the rain on a questionable dirt road, we arrived at the trail head. We sat in the car for a few minutes to wait for the rain to stop. Sure enough the clouds rolled back. We loaded up and headed down the valley wall. We arrived at the river, and there was an awesome spot just across the river perfect for our three tents. We set up early and spent the rest of the day walking up and down the river soaking in the views.

After the trip, Dennis was already talking about all the gear he needed to be a fully equipped backpacker (he was using all my wife's stuff for this trip). I knew then I had found another lifer. He was hooked. We have tried to get some trips together since then, but our schedules haven't worked out. We do have dates set aside for the week after next. I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Virgin Falls, Tennessee

Well, now that I am back to the blogging, I have to catch everyone up on all those hikes you've missed out on the past year or so. This one was an all-around interesting adventure.

I had just had micro-fracture surgery on my left knee only a week ago. I found out later that I wasn't supposed to walk for six weeks, but those instructions were given to me while I was still drunk on meds in recovery. I still had the staples in my knee and everything. Anyhow! I was headed to Texas, from Augusta, for my cousin's wedding. I figured since I had so much time off for recovery, I would take a detour and hit up some Tennessee trails on the way home (even though it wasn't really on the way at all).

When I got to the trailhead and unleashed the hounds (my two dogs, Austin and Star)and let them get their usual pre-hike scamper over with, I got my pack on and laced up my boots and hit the trail. By that time the dogs' tongues were dragging the ground. "No big deal," I thought, "they can get some fresh water out of the creek we are supposed to cross in about half a mile." Sure enough, at about half a mile we crossed a footbridge over a completely dry creek bed. I had no water on me at all, expecting to use the creek as a source. I figured surely at some point we would find some water. Mile 1, nothing. Mile 2, nothing. At this point, I was very close to going into panic mode, because they were really panting hard, and I myself was getting quite thirsty. Thank goodness at mile 3 there was a decent sized puddle in the creek bed and they got a good (dirty) drink.

We reached the campsite and found this amazing, one of a kind waterfall. There is a small hill/mountain top, with water coming out of the very top. No really, just flowing striaght out of the mountain top. There is no visible river or anything feeding the waterfall. The waterfall splashes down about 90 feet to its bottom, where it disappears into the base of the mountain. It's so crazy. There in the middle of this wilderness is a mountain with a waterfall flowing down its side. No river at the top, no river at the base. Awesome.

When we got there I hike down to the slippery base of the waterfall, being extra cautious not to fall and slide into the abyss where the water disappeared. I filled my water bottle, took some pictures and got ready to climb back up to the campsite. On the way up I felt my leg getting wet. At some point I gashed a small hole in my bottle. So now, if I balanced it just right, I had half a bottle of water. The only way to refill the bottle was to hike down to the slippery base of the waterfall and hope not to slide into the abyss. Not cool. It was rough and thirsty night.

The next day, I finished taking my last set of pictures and soaking it all in. We packed up and got ready to hike out. Right when I shoved off, another hiker comes in with nothing more than a walking stick and a small backpack. We made small talk about the dry creek bed and the best time to catch the waterfall (he recommended December). I headed out, thinking he would stay, but he said he was headed out as well. As we talked along the trail, I found out that he comes out here all the time and hikes the trail as a workout (which explained why he didn't hang out long at the falls). At first I was slightly annoyed that he hiked out with us. The dogs usually act edgy around company. But he was very friendly and seemed to enjoy the dogs running up and down the mountain. Then, suddenly, I noticed my heart getting kinda fluttery and my hands felt really shaky. I looked in my pack, but I had only packed what I needed for supper last night and breakfast. I knew it was only a 5 mile hike and figured surely I could make it out. My new hiking buddy offered me some of his food, but I didn't want to take it. Also, my water bottle (or half water bottle) was empty after about half a mile. I did accept his offer for water (since the dry creek bed was in fact still dry...), but still just felt bad about accepting his granola bar. Sure enough, with just one mile to go on the hike, I simply couldn't take another step. I realized that the whole time I was using only my right leg to carry the load (due to the left knee only being a week removed from surgery). This drained me way faster than normal. So I took up his offer for the granola, which gave me the boost I needed to get back to the car.

To date, that's the only time I have had any trouble on the trail. It was close to being serious trouble. This guy I thought was going to be annoying ended up saving me from a world of misery. I think it may have been God's way of making me feel like a heel for judging someone. He ended up being a true Godsend.

**This trail also offers some cave hikes. I got in late, and was short on water and food, so I didn't stray to far from the main path. There is also a short spur trail to take you to a nearby river, but my new hiking buddy informed me that even the river was dry at that time; something he had never seen before.